Tuesday, 28 June 2011

I've been inspired..... Brian Powell's Western States 100 training schedule

I don't know how many of you have heard of Brian Powell of irunfar? probably quite a few... anyway I was just on his site (www.irunfar.com) following all the post Western States interviews and results, and got to reading about Brian's training schedule for the race (the link to the article and schedule is below). Anyway Brian finished Western States 100 in sub 20 hrs!! (19:24) on just 40 miles average per week of training, and only 7 runs longer than 20 miles!! He placed 31st out of 310 finishers. That's quite something in my book. Of course the guy has hug talent, undoubtedly, but as he states himself you don't have to log massive weekly mileage to do well, and be ready for a hundy!!

So what does this all mean? Well I guess what it means is that I do have a chance, despite my limited time, to train well for North Downs Way 100, get in some solid but not exceptionally high mileage, get in the long run at the weekend, and perhaps one or two more evening runs when the kids are in bed, do myself proud and absolutely smash it!! haha I think I'm finding some fire in my belly! Its time to get focused, and stop using the 'family life' excuse as a reason why I can't train and get in the runs that I know I can and should. Do I want this? You bet I do... So out with the excuses and in with a new schedule that will set me on a path towards NDW100 in good shape and ready to take on the challenge...

Link to Brian Powells WS training - My 2011 Western States 100 training.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Greensands Ridge race report

It was a grey but warm Saturday morning as I toed the start line with just one other runner at the beginning of the Greensands Ridge Ultra. This was an ultra with a difference as the main event was actually the relay race which consisted of 6 legs along the 33 mile route. There were 30 relay teams competing and 17 soloists. Start times were based on your predicted finish time working backwards from 5pm. I was starting 11.45am alongside last years winner and solo course record holder. No pressure there then! It was very relaxed at the start with a few club mates were milling around for support.

LBAC had 4 relay teams competing and 4 soloists including myself. The other 3 solo club runners were running their first ultra - Ian, Joe (on the left) and Pete (on the right).

However all being accomplished marathon runners and faster than me meant that 33m was more than within their comfort zone, and only a small step up from the marathon. I hoped that Chris Taylor (last years winner) would go ahead of me from the start so that I could run my own race and this is what happened. As it was I never saw him again. He finished in a time of 4:53 taking half hour off his previous record. But this would not be the fastest solo time on the day as another soloist - Huw Lobb, was the favourite by some considerable margin and expected to smash the course record and run faster than many of the relay teams! Incredible stuff.

Each of the six legs differed in length. Leg 3 being the longest at 8 miles, and leg 2 the shortest at 3.9 miles. This makes little difference to solo runners though as we were running all 6. I set off at an 8:30 mpm pace, and tried to sustain this for leg 1 which went along the grand union canal for the first 3 miles before climbing up through the Stockgrove estate which brought with it the first few climbs. Some new greensands waymarkers recently put up did confuse things though and took you off the normal route. I should have known better than to follow them but soon got back on track and made my way to CP1 to dib in with an orienteering style dibber and carried on not needing to stop for refreshment as I had my camelpak which hold 1.5ltrs and filled with my drink of choice SIS energy drink.

Leg 2 was a mix of single track trail, and cut throughs across open fields. For the most part the GRW is very well waymarked making navigation easy. However at one point between two fields I took a left rather than a right as I couldn't see the cut though the hedge infront, and had to leap across a ditch and scrapped up my leg of the bush. No real harm done, but upon exiting the other style I spotted the stile just 10 metres away on the right which was well hidden! Doh. The only other point of note on leg 2 was being overtaken by a relay team runner. This early on surely meant that their predicted finish time was way to conservative. I averaged 8:45 pace for this section which I was pleased with, as I was trying to hold back on going too fast.

The start of Leg 3 is stunning as you run though Woburn Estate which is a large open space with lakes, herds of wild deer, and the impressive Woburn House. I stopped to take a few pics on route. From there it was a mix of single track, and fields, and definitely undulating! The sun was also now out and things were heating up making the going feel a little tougher at this early stage of the race. I had reccied this leg a few weeks prior with Pete (along with 4,5,6 also) so you would think that I couldn't go wrong, however I did take a wrong turn just before Evershott village and lost a few minutes. No bother though. I averaged 9mpm pace on leg 3, mainly because of the undulating terrain. CP3 was much needed as I was drinking far more than anticipated and was running dry. One of the volunteers filled by pak whilst I added the magic powder. Just at this point Pete came flying into the CP who had started a full 15 minutes behind me and had made up all this time in the first 17 miles so going just under 8 mpm pace! Awesome running.

Leg 4 was where the distance and heat began to take its toll a little. My pace began to drop not unsuprisingly so averaging 9:30 for the leg with my total average dropping below 9mpm for the first time. The plan for this run was to try and average 9 for the whole distance and clip under 5hrs, but the heat and wearrliness in the legs from this point onwards meant that maintaining 9s was looking an impossible task. Legs 5 & 6 was simply a battle to the finish, to keep going, dig deep and hang on for a respectable time. I was averaging 10mpm by this stage with some of the climbs nearer 12mpm. Leg 5 was field after field after field which you thought would never finish. However it was very peaceful with just myself for company, and despite the slow going I was still moving forward and enjoying the challenge. The end of Leg 5 and the CP was packed with people clapping and giving their support as I run in. I poured a 2ltr bottle of water over my head to cool the rapidly rise heat and downed the rest.

Just 4.7 miles to go to the finish and I put the hammer down... This is of course all relative and in reality I started doing 8.30 for the first mile which slowed to 9s and then 10s! This leg was very straightforward with a long stretch along a wide gravel track that went on forever. With fresh legs it would have been really quick but with 30 miles in the legs it didn't seem to make any difference. Nevertheless I started to feelthe finish and enjoy myself once again. I was still looking at the watch and working out times. 5hrs had slipped by a long time ago... 5:15 my original predicted time was also go... So the next target was the 2010 course record at 5:20 but as I got closer and closer to the finish I knew to that I would just miss out on this. It really wasn't an issue though as this was a training run for bigger things to come. The crucial thing was time on my feet and I was certainly getting that. My wife called to say she had arrived at the finish line with Lili and Jasper which was perfect timing with less than 2 miles to go. This spured me on and before long I was running down the final straight pass the church into Northill village and across the finish line where my family were standing. Perfect. My time was 5h24m. Average pace 9:40.

Going back to the favourite soloist Huw Lobb who I mentioned at the beginning of this piece... He did indeed demolish the 2010 course record by almost 1.5 hours in a time of 3.57 which is simply staggering. That's just over 7 mpm pace over 33 miles across undulating farmland and technical single track, plus the numerious stiles and in the heat. Huw also beat most of the relay teams too with only a handful of the 30 teams going faster. Unbelievable running. Pic below is Huw Lobb on the right and LBAC runner Simon who run a seriously fast 1st leg in 6 minute mile pace, and Huw kept up with Simon all the way!

So what do I take from this 'training run' in the build up to the NDW100 in August. Well quite a lot actually which I will list in no particular order...

1) Need more endurance = need to fit in more longer weekend runs (perhaps a little less ElliptiGOing!)

2) Need more speed = more focused speed work. Monday lunchtime being my preferred day for this session.

3) Must be mentally stronger. I found myself too often on this run thinking about how far there was left to go and how I was slowing down, instead of flipping it around and celebrating the distance I had covered and the pace that I was still able to average over the whole distance. I've got to get into a mindset more often of celebrating every success and blocking out any negativity or doubts.

4) New pair or trail shoes! Ok I don't actually need a new pair but I look for any excuse and the new Merrell foot gloves look awesome.

5) I must wake up realise that I don't and won't have the time with life's pressures to put in the miles that I know are needed to really excel in ultras. So recognising this I must manage my expectations about what I can achieve going forward. Which brings me on nicely to goals for the NDW100.

I had thought about going sub 20 hours and whether this would be possible. I'm not sure if it is realistic or not, but such time goals (especially very optimistic ones) I don't think are very helpful when you are in the thick of it and just battling on to keep moving forward. Why set a goal that could make things even more difficult for yourself whilst you are out there running cos you realise that you can't maintain the pace required which puts you in a funk and the wrong frame of mind. So I would much rather for an event such as a 100 miler remove the pressure on myself to hit certain mile splits/average pace etc etc, and not worry so much about pace or time.

The only thing that is certain is that I do want the NDW 100 mile-1 day belt buckle which only sub 24hr finishers will receieve. If you take longer than 24hrs then new just get a simple finishers buckle. So there.... I've said it... My goal IS to finish the NDW100 in under 24hrs. More achievable than 20hrs of course, and something more tangible as well, which should spur me on when the going gets tough.

Ok I had better stop talking and get training....

The Official Greensands Ridge finishers times are here

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Greensands Ridge reccie

Just a short post on yesterdays training run along the Greensands Ridge. This was a reccie for a race in 2 weeks time which is a relay event with 6 legs of differing lengths along a 33 mile section of the Greensands Ridge (GSR). Teams that enter (mostly local running clubs) are then allowed to have solo entries too. So myself and fellow lBAC club rummer Pete who is also running solo ran legs 3,4,5 and 6 yesterday to familiarise ourselves with this fantastic trail.

We took the cars out to the finish and one of us drove back to where we were starting from. A bit longwinded but the only way to cover a point to point course without doubling back. We started in Evershot village - your typical English little village with pub, by the cricket green in the centre and quaint pre georgian cottages. This point is just over 10 miles into the GSR route. The route itself starts in Leighton Buzzard and finishes in Northill which is where we were heading to.

We were running by 6:30 (up at 5 again!) and so nice to find a friend willing to run at the same crazy times as me. Thanks Pete! The GSR is an undulating route that mixes, terrain of grass fields, compact sand (as you would expect from the name), some techincal single track stuff, and wider gravel paths. It all made for a great run. Navigation was fairly straight forward with regular GSR 'deer' waymarkers along the route although some are positioned in the silliest of places making them pretty hard to spot. Pete and I missed a few turns but quickly corrected our mistakes, and learn?from these for the actual race.

It was a great run that rose the heartbeat at times but it wasn't the running that caused this - one point we acrossed a field of bulls but they were quite 'friendly' looking and of the wooley variety but we weren't going to take any chances. The other 'incident' was with 3 angry barking german shepherd dogs who were guarding their territory on the other side of a worrying low wire fence that separated them from us as Pete and I tenatively walk/run along a narrow path right next to them. Not a nice experience expecially when one of them made an effort to jump over the fence. Stupid dog owners.

We completed the 22 miles in 3h35m. Average pace was a leisurely 9:45 mpm. Perfect. And 3000 calories burnt, which I did my atmost to regain over the day by eating eating eating :-Definitely the best bit about running long!

Considering that this was just a week after the C100 i'm happy with my recovery. Whilst I can still feel the effects on some of the hills it wasn't anything over the oridinary, and I expect to being fully race fit in 2 weeks time. Not that i'm planning to 'race' it full on. I'm hoping to approach it as a 33 mile training run, to get more miles in the legs in my continued build up to the 100 in August.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Chiltern 100 Race Report

I didn't stop smiling all day!
This past Sunday saw Idai and I take on the beast that was the Chiltern 100 cycle sportive event. This is an event that I have been building up to for months now. In fact in true ultra fashion one of the first things I did when getting my ElliptiGO was to look for an Ultra event. This was fuelled by the desire to become a member of the ElliptiGO Century Club, which before Sunday had just 13 members one of which is ultra-running legend and hero Dean Karnazes! So that has been my motivation to train hard and make it to the start line in tip-top shape and give it my all.

Training had gone very well, as captured in previous blog posts, and I had ridden up to 70 miles, including a 90 mile day (20 + 70). I was familiar with two thirds of the route which really helped on the day to focus on what was coming around the next bend, when to push and when to ease off. The Chiltern 100 route itself is certainly not for the faint hearted, and if you aren’t a huge fan of hills then it certainly isn’t for you with over 2,600 metres of climbing. The description on the Chiltern 100 website sums up the 'Gran Fordo' route quite nicely which reads as follows: "The Gran Fondo is an uncompromising road romp across 177 km (110 miles) of the toughest and most picturesque terrain in the Chilterns. It is relentless in its pursuit of hills, 21 in all, routinely climbing at over 15% grades. From Great Missenden to Dunstable Downs, then SW for the shake down along the scarp slope where the biggest and steepest hills await you. From Watlington return to Great Missenden over the final 6 leg numbing climbs".

So that is what awaited Idai and I as we set off on Sunday morning; separately I might add as Idai was fashionably late and I couldn't hang around because the event cut-off time was a pretty brutal 9 hours with the HQ due to close at 5pm. I think Idai was quite keen to ride separately anyway as an event of this distance really does require one to ride their own race. The emphasis of a sportive event is that it is not a race and hence there was no mass start. Instead 20 riders were released at a time in 2 minute intervals. I was on the start line with friend Dave (riding his Bianchi performance road bike) at 7:45am sharp for a quick getaway. My aim was to complete the event in under 8 hours (14mph average speed) but I didn't want to leave anything to chance hence the early start.

The ElliptiGO was unsurprisingly receiving a lot of attention on the start line. The usual questions from riders included – “What is it?”, “I haven't seen one of those before...”, “You're not doing the full 100 are you?”, to which I would reply 'yes', which was met by a “you’re completely mad”. Yes I am and I love it! And the most asked question throughout the day - "is it harder or easier than a bike?". Let’s look at it this way - These guys had 20+ gears, tyres the width of razor blades, and bikes that weighed as much as can of beans, the ElliptiGO on the other hand had just 8 gears, tyres more at home on a short city commute than 110 miles in the Chilterns, and weighs 40lbs. So most definitely harder! Figures I’ve seen from the manufacturer suggest that it’s about a 30% greater effort level. Nevertheless I wouldn't swap it for anything else, and I'm sure I had the biggest grin on my face of any rider on the course all day!

We were soon on our way from the HQ at Amersham Rugby club (see route map and profile above) and making our way along the first 5 mile flat section towards and down to Chesham. It was soon apparent and came as no surprise that I would not be keeping up with other riders on the flat sections, as they were way faster than me. Instead I set about pacing myself at around 16mph average speed which felt comfortable. The first descent into Chesham was a long blast down into the town centre which set the scene for the rest of the ride, which as the above profile shows would be descent, followed by ascent, followed by descent and so on. My strategy was to make maximum use of the flat sections maintaining a high average speed with minimal effort, whilst blasting the downhills and pacing the uphills as evenly as I could.

From Chesham we headed out and up to the top of Berkhamsted along some quiet picturesque country roads, and another blast down to the town centre. Inevitably followed by a long gradual climb up into the Ashridge Estate at the 15 mile mark. I know the area well and loved every second. Ashridge is a National Trust estate of hundreds of acres in size inhabited by many different deer and wildlife. Unfortunately I have no photos as taking them would be difficult on a bike and is impossible on an ElliptiGO. From Ashridge and into Little Gaddesden village there was a nice long downhill followed by... yes you guessed it another climb. We were then heading out to the northern tip of the route for what was the first serious climb of the day Bison Hill at around the 25 mile mark. I had practiced this climb many times before so knew what gear to be in and when for minimal effort, although at a 10% incline effort was certainly required.

It was on this climb too that the ElliptiGO really showed what a good climber it was as I passed a few other riders hunched over their handlebars grinding the lowest gear. On this hill and others further on in the route many riders even took the time and energy to comment on how well it climbs. And it does however not without putting in the effort, but because the body and legs drive it in such harmony, the whole motion of the ElliptiGO does look effortless as you glide up the hill bolt upright, driving down on the foot plates and still grinning! :-)

Incidentally, Bison Hill is so named because there are actual bison there! And what's more I spotted two of the woolly beasts between getting my breath back and pressing on up the hill. Again no time to play tourist and take photos I'm afraid though.

From here it was a big loop around Dunstable Downs with spectacular views over the valley below and across to Ivinghoe Beacon which would be our next significant climb.

Climb up Ivinghoe Beacon
Once we climbed Ivinghoe we headed back around into the Ashridge Estate for a brief spell, where I took an unscheduled pitstop to relieve the pressure on my bladder. And who said men can't multi-task as I also put the time to good use and consumed an orange GO energy gel as well. The timing was perfect too as we were approaching the two hour mark, and this in effect established my fuelling strategy for the rest of the ride - take an energy gel every 2 hours plus something more substantial at the official feed stations at the 39 and 75 mile marks, whilst also filling my water bottle with my SIS energy drink. In total I estimate that I only spent 10 or so minutes stationary throughout the entire ride, which was extremely pleasing as time spent going nowhere really kills your average speed. My official split at this checkpoint was 2:33 which translates to an average speed of 15.3mph.

The next section took us down a steep sharp incline into Aldbury village which was followed by a series of long, winding, undulating country roads with the occassional bigger bump (e.g. 10-12% inclines) but these climbs were short lived and just a taster of what was still to come. The first feed station at 39 miles was on this section and as stated I didn't spend a whole lot of time at these, which is a shame in some respects because what they had on offer was an abundance of calorific sugary treats! But I resisted the urge to graze quickly filling my bottle, grabbing one energy bar, which I scoffed whilst fielding questions from inquisitive riders about the GO. Refuelled and feeling great I pushed on and enjoyed a long winding descent down into Tring town centre. The next section was quite compact with riders in closer proximity on narrower single track roads. I was no longer riding alone and had company, which was nice, as the hills started to come thicker and faster.

The next town on route was Wendover which signalled the start of what I considered to be the toughest part of the route in terms of steepness and length of the climbs. However I was very familiar with this section too which allowed me to relax and take it each climb in my stride (which being quite a long stride must help to drive the ElliptiGO forward with greater efficiency especially uphill!). This was put to the test on consecutive climbs of Butlers Cross, Pulpitt Hill and the brutal Whiteleaf hill which was over a mile long from the bottom. It was in this section of climbs that a game of cat and mouse started between myself and the other riders around me. They would pull out in front on the flat sections between the climbs but I would reel them back in on the climbs. I remember one guy well who was I think amazed that he couldn’t shake me off, and laughed each time I passed him on the climb. On Pulpitt Hill he commented that the sound of the ElliptiGO was like the theme music to Jaws! Scary stuff indeed!

The reward for reaching the top of Whiteleaf Hill was a massive downhill section on Kop Hill where I hit my top speed of the entire course, and top speed ever of the ElliptiGO – 41.4mph!! Pretty crazy stuff and I can tell you that I was holding on pretty tight. What a rush though! One rider I spoke to after the event said he hit over 50mph on the same hill :-O

From here it was more of the same undulating country roads. Beyond the town of Chinnor at around the 70 mile mark was where I was entering unchartered territory for the first time both in terms of distance covered and the rest of the route which I had not covered in training. However neither aspect changed too much and I continued on riding strong, muttering my new ElliptiGO mantra under my breath to hold good form and push on “Stand Tall, Ride Strong”. What I had perhaps not bargained for was the brutality of the climbs still to come, namely Kingston Wood and Christmas Common! Such splendid names but they do deceive as they sound so innocent! These climbs were enough to get several riders in front of me off their bike and walking, but not the ElliptiGO – she’s like a Duracell bunny and just keeps going! I won’t lie though and say that my legs weren’t starting to grumble. They certainly felt well used, and I could feel that my effort levels were maxed out but it was manageable and I still climbed faster than those of bikes around me.

The second and last feed station was situated at the top of Kingston Wood and it couldn’t have been better placed. I stayed disciplined however and was in and out in less than 3 or 4 minutes. My split here was 4:45 for 73 miles (avg speed upon leaving the station was 14.9mph dropping just below 15mph for the first time).

From here is was a case of head down and go, and the good news was that there was a massive downhill section followed by long flat main road where I could get the miles in and push on. Even the rain that was starting to fall at this point didn’t dampen my spirits although it did make me more careful on when cornering! What followed from here to the finish was a series of seemingly never ending climbs. Six in total which after what had preceded them over the whole day were starting to take their toll, but the finish didn’t seem so far away and the scenery continued to stun and amaze and keep me grinning! Honestly! Or was it grimacing... one of the two... probably both.

Somewhere on route in the latter sections
The last event of any significance was when the heavens opened 3 miles from the end but I didn’t care. It was a flat section and I was flying going at over 20 mph and eager to finish strong. And that was that. Job done. A coveted place in the ElliptiGO Century Club was mine. The first person to finish the Chiltern 100 on an Elliptical bike, and in a time of 7hrs 27 minutes, which I was dead chuffed with and much faster than I had ever anticipated. Incidentally my 100 mile time as measured by my Garmin was 6h46m. I know these times are meaningless as one doesn’t have a point of reference to compare. But hey if I do it again next year then we can! I may also contact ElliptiGO themselves out of pure curiosity and because I’m unashamedly competitive to find out what other 100 mile times have been set. The ElliptiGO Century Club list is here on their website and hopefully my name will appear there soon. The full results of the Chiltern 100 are posted here. No official race day photos yet but I will be keen to see those and will post when they are up.

My last thought 2 days after this all happened relates to my post race recovery. Quite simply the ElliptiGO says what it does on the tin. It is a zero impact high intensity workout which can be proven by the fact that I've just ridden 110 miles with over 2,600m of climbing and felt fine on Monday and was running again today. Yes my legs feel a little used and wearly but if it was a run I would be nursing all sorts of aches and pains for days if not weeks after! That's not to say that I'm stopping running, far from it, but as a cross-training device the ElliptiGO is far far better than running alone. Period.